1848- The first women’s rights convention is held in Seneca Falls, NY
1893- Colorado becomes the first state to grant women the vote
1916- Margaret Sanger opens the first US birth-control clinic in Brooklyn, NY
1919- Congress passes the federal women’s suffrage amendment
1936- Birth control information is no longer classified as obscene
1960- The F.D.A. approves the first birth control pill
1963- Congress passes the Equal Pay Act
1965- The Supreme Court strikes down the last law preventing married couples from using contraception
1969- California becomes the first state to adopt a "no fault" divorce law
1972- Congress passes the Equal Rights Amendment (it died in 1982 when the required 38 states failed to ratify)
1973- Roe v. Wade establishes a woman’s right to a safe and legal abortion
1992- In Planned Parenthood v. Casey, the Supreme Court reaffirms a woman’s right to abortion
1994- Congress passes the Violence Against Women Act
2009- President Obama signs the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Restoration Act
Anyone looking at the above timeline should come away with a sense of just how long women have been struggling for equality. “Gender equity” and “women’s rights” are, historically speaking, not concepts with a long and universally accepted track record among men. It’s been a long and difficult struggle for women to get to where they are today. There are still inequities for women vis a vis men, but women today find themselves on a much more equal footing than their mothers enjoyed.
That’s why what’s happening in state legislatures nationwide these days is so disturbing. The severely Conservative legislatures installed by voters in many states in 2008 and 2010 have worked diligently to undermine a woman’s right to control her own body.
The anti-choice movement long ago recognized that a woman’s right to abortion couldn’t be defeated via a frontal assault. With Roe v. Wade the law of the land, those committed to destroying abortion rights have committed to waging a patient and incremental battle. While desiring above all else to see Roe v. Wade overturned, anti-choice zealots know that won’t happen. They understand a woman’s right to choose won’t be defeated by sledgehammer blows, so they’ve chosen to fight with rubber mallets. Patiently chipping away at abortion rights around the margins, the anti-choice zealots have adapted a long-term approach. They recognize that they may not be able to overturn Roe v. Wade, but they can work to eliminate the ancillary components that make abortion available and accessible. That’s exactly what they’re doing…and their efforts are bearing fruit.
TRAP laws, waiting periods, changing the legal definition of conception, and other dishonest but effective methods are showing results. Slowly but surely, access to abortion is being diminished, even as the right to abortion remains intact. Legislatures nationwide have not outlawed abortion directly, but they’ve kicked the supports out from under it. Anti-choice zealots may not be able to outlaw abortion, but by nibbling around the edges, they’re making it nearly impossible for a woman to obtain an abortion.
It used to be that the biggest threat to a woman’s right to choose came from protesters who camped out in front of clinics and screamed at women as they approached the entrance. That tactic is still alive and well, but it’s become secondary in importance and effectiveness to attempts to indirectly legislate abortion out of existence. There’s also the time-honored tradition of harassing providers, their families, their landlords, their vendors, and anyone else who can be targeted. Actual and implied threats are merely tools to be employed in the service of the larger goal of denying women the right to a safe and legal abortion.
The Far Right’s war on women has begun to expand beyond their desire to destroy abortion rights. It’s also spreading to the right to equal pay for equal work, and there are those in Congress opposed to renewing the Violence Against Women Act. An observer of current trends would have to ask if we’re not about to see a gradual rolling back of the rights women have worked so hard to achieve. It would defy credibility to argue that women’s rights aren’t increasingly coming under attack.
The question is what women, and the men who care about them, will do?